My love affair with Frequency Drift is no secret, I’ll admit. I’ve been listening to them for quite some time. Ever since their albums in 2011-2012, “Ghosts” and “Laid to Rest”, I’ve been looking forward to everything they release. Then, in 2014, they released two albums, “Over” and “Summer”, which raised them head and shoulders above many other progressive rock bands on the scene. Indeed, “Over” features one of my absolute favorite songs, “Memory”, which contains some of the best instrumentals I’ve ever heard. After hearing that song, I just didn’t see how they could get any better. With their upcoming new album “Last”, however, they have shown me how they can evolve and progress in ways I didn’t expect.
Frequency Drift hails from Germany, and there’s just something about the folksiness of their sound that feels so German. The band plays a combination of cinematic prog rock with folk elements. Their music has always sounded like it could be in an artsy film, and the addition of all kinds of harps, cellos, and the like really amp up their folk style.
Unfortunately, the band also suffers from member transition. This new album is no different. Yet again, we have a new singer, this time named Melanie Mau. We also have a new bassist named Rainer Wolf , and, to my chagrin, a new guitarist replacing the mighty Christian Hack, named Martin Schnella. Other than that, the band continues with Andreas Hack (one of my favorite keyboardists) on keys, Nerissa Schwarz on e-harp and mellotron, and Wolfgang Ostermann on drums.
Seeing these various band movements, I was somewhat scared to listen to “Last”. Christian is an amazing guitarist with such Gilmourish emotion, and I was really loving Isa’s vocal performances, even though she was only on two albums herself. The band, however, have proven my worries unfounded. Their performances are simply flawless. Martin and Andreas’ guitars are sure to be some of my favorites in 2016, blending emotional solos with riffy passages with oomph. Nerissa continues to be a backbone with her wildly robust harp, which she uses to great effect in this album. Wolfgang and Rainer are a great team on the rhythm section, creating my favorite Frequency Drift bass and drums since probably “Ghosts”. And Melanie? She sounds great! There are no worries with her voice, as it is powerful, clear, and punctuating. Her ability to switch octaves and tones on the fly is really something you need to hear! In fact, the production of this album is flawless, too, as all of these artists can be heard in remarkable clarity.
But the thing that impresses me most about this album is not just the incredible musicianship present. It’s the composition. Frequency Drift has evolved in some fantastic ways. Taking their primary sound to a new level, they’ve added a hefty dose of what I would call post-metal. Now, that might sound strange, but the band has added some heavier moments that, in my mind, fall into a cinematic style of post-metal, complete with weighty emotions, draining darkness, and extended instrumental portions that take your mind on some very dreary journeys. Using the harp and guitars especially, the band is innovating and paying tribute at the same time.
Let me illustrate this new style by discussing my favorite song on the album: “Last Photo”. This song has been consuming my mind for weeks now, and it surely challenges “Memory” as the best song the band has ever created! It begins with the signature Frequency Drift tones: dancing melodies and clear-cut vocals. Yet, as it progresses, it becomes clear that the song will take a turn. Soon, it dives down the rabbit hole into a guitar and keys driven exercise of abstract composition. It’s all feelings and textures down here, desperately trying to reach light, as if being chased. The riffs and rhythms get heavy and burdensome, dragging you through a musical slough that I won’t soon forget. And just when you think you’re lost, the song emerges into brightness with harp and a particularly mournful and fantastic guitar solo. And then it ends almost abruptly.
My pulse is racing as I write this, listening to that stunning track. The album in general is like this. While the album starts with more traditional, yet excellent Frequency Drift fare, like “Traces” and “Diary”, the album soon moves to a moodier and less concrete style that balances the brightness of their normal tone. Tracks like “Treasured” and “Hidden” are right there with “Last Photo” in quality, and the album ends perfectly with “Asleep”. The album is story of life and death, wreathed in exotic textures, mind-bending compositions, and pure vocals. What will you find when you explore your past?
So, Frequency Drift has shown that they can and will progress stylistically, especially in ways I didn’t predict. They have created what may be their best album to date; full of innovation, abstraction, emotion, and projection. “Last” is cinematic and masterful, yet also gritty, dark, and very personal. It honestly doesn’t get much better than this for me. Now, I told myself I wouldn’t do this, but I guess I can’t help it: I sure hope “Last” isn’t the last that we hear from Frequency Drift.